The Good In Sorrow (!?!)

I certainly don’t know all the thoughts and feelings of other Christians as they’ve suffered hard through trial and affliction. But I do know that some Christians have remarked that God blessed them greatly during their suffering. Sometimes when we suffer we experience the comforting presence of God in an unexplicable way. Other times God’s people step up and surround us with tender love when we suffer. David said that it was good for him to be afflicted because then he learned God’s rules (Ps. 119:71). When Paul was weak under affliction, he learned more of God’s strength and grace (2 Cor. 12:9-12).

While God has spared me from many trials and hardships, I know what it’s like to plow through a hard, heartbreaking, and somewhat lengthy affliction. I can say for sure that for Christians, there is some sweetness in suffering. I don’t mean suffering itself is sweet. I mean what Paul said when he explained how suffering was productive (Rom. 5:3-5). In God’s mysterious providence, suffering is not a waste. Here’s one helpful angle on this topic written by a Christian man who lost his daughter, wife, and mother in the same car accident:

[Sorrow] enlarges the soul until the soul is capable of mourning and rejoicing simultaneously, or feeling the world’s pain and hoping for the world’s healing at the same time. However painful, sorrow is good for the soul.

Deep sorrow often has the effect of stripping life of pretense, vanity, and waste. It forces us to ask basic questions about what is most important in life. Suffering can lead to a simpler life, less cluttered with nonessentials. It is wonderfully clarifying. That is why many people who suffer sudden and severe loss often become different people. They spend more time with their children or spouses, express more affection and appreciation to their friends, show more concern for other wounded people, give more time to a worthy cause, or enjoy more of the ordinariness of life.”

These words were written by Jerry Sittser in his excellent book, A Grace Disguised. It’s a tough book to read because Sittser’s story contains such deep sorrow. But it also explains in a God-centered way how to press on through sorrow and find the sweetness God often provides in and through sorrow.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Reason (Sturm)

The Reason: How I Discovered a Life Worth Living by [Sturm, Lacey] I enjoy reading autobiographies, so when I saw Lacey Sturm’s autobiography on sale awhile back, I picked it up.  I admit I didn’t know much about her, but I have listened to Flyleaf before and the book summary sounded good, so I was interested in checking it out.  After reading it, I’m glad that I did!  I don’t agree with it all, and there are some spots of the book I didn’t really like, but I thought it was worth the time and effort.  This book is a bit different from others I point out here on the blog, but it is worth pointing out (despite my caveats).

The entire book is dominated by this theme: “The Reason” (hence the title).  It’s a helpful layout.  For example, here are some of the chapters: 3) The Reason I Became an Atheist, 4) The Reason I Fell in Love with Sadness, 8) The Reason I Wanted to Die, 10) The Reason I’m Alive, 13) The Reason I Sing, and 18) The Reason God Will Always Love Us.  As you might be able to tell from these chapter titles, Sturm has quite a story to tell – and I’m glad she told it!

One gripping aspect of this book is how Sturm described her loneliness, sorrow, and desire to die.  I could feel the emotion and was brought to tears by the darkness she went through.  Living in an abusive household and facing other difficulties in youth led her to become “addicted at a very young age, to feeling sad and sorry for myself.  …I thought about suicide all the time.”   She followed Kurt Cobain’s views on darkness:

“…There is a comfort in being sad.  It’s dark and hauntingly true, at least when you’re a young girl looking for something to cling to.  Crying myself to sleep began to feel familiar, like a kind of home.  Darkness can feel honest, and honesty can be beautiful and feel so inspiring.  But darkness stops short of resolution.  It’s deceptive.  You can’t see all that lurks within darkness.  The things that inhabit darkness live there because you can’t see them; that way they can deceive you, pervert you, and ultimately destroy you from the inside out” (p. 54).

If you’ve gone through the darkness like that, you know what she means (and you should read this book if you’re personally familiar with this theme!).  Later Sturm writes,

“It is not brave to kill yourself when things are difficult; it is brave to live anyway.  It is brave to find ways to lay down your life to serve the people around you.  It is brave to forgive and choose to love those who hurt you even though they don’t deserve it.  It is brave to trust that the God who gave you life in the first place has a good plan in mind, even when everything around you looks like hell.  It is brave to live” (p. 62).

The gospel freed Sturm from the darkness, sadness,  and from the idolatry of trying to be god to other people:

“Because I stand forgiven I am always beautiful to God.  I could finally see myself through his love (p. 115).”

God’s love in Christ was the light and truth that captured Sturm’s heart, and led her to write the song “The Reason” (which you can find online):

All my life I’ve searched
For something to satisfy the longing in my heart
And every time I’d come away
Emptier than before.

And now I found the Reason
I was made to be Yours alone.

…Thank you for never giving up, on me
When I looked to everything else
And lived, so selfishly
You bled, you died
To be with me
Why would you do
Something like that?
For someone like me?

The above book quotes are found in Lacey Sturm, The Reason (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2014).

Shane Lems

The Loss of A Loved One

 This is a great resource on dealing with sorrow and grief in the Christian life: Facing Grief by John Flavel (d. 1691).  Flavel starts by discussing Luke 7.13: When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry” (NIV).  He then moves to aspects of sorrow, explaining the biblical way for a Christian to grieve (he mostly speaks about grief over the loss of a loved one). 

One of the first points he makes is that Christians may grieve, of course, but grief should never overcome us: “Christians ought to moderate their sorrows for their dead relations (friends/family), no matter how many afflicting circumstances and aggravations meet together in their death” (p. 10).  It is a deep and cutting sorrow to lose a loved one, but since Jesus defeated death in his resurrection, death’s sorrow should not overwhelm us.  Here are a few more words of wisdom Flavel gives to the mourner.

“Whatever God takes, be still thankful for what he leaves” (p. 23).

“It is well for us and ours that our times are in God’s hand, and not in our own” (p. 56).

“The more impatient you are under this affliction, the more need you had of it” (p. 85).

“If you would not be overwhelmed with trouble for the loss of dear relations, turn to God under your trouble and pour out your sorrows by prayer into his bosom” (p. 117).

If deep sorrow has hit your life, you’ll want to read through this book.  I’m quite certain it will bring out some tears, especially when Flavel talks about losing an infant.  I had to set it down a few times – I wish I had read this several years ago!

By the way, Flavel’s language is a bit archaic, so you have to concentrate while reading, but it is not long (120 small pages), and the benefits are worth the effort.  And, as with many of these Puritan Paperbacks, it is very affordable.  You really should get this one! 

shane lems

Gen X: Jaded and Shallow?

 In his excellent book, Against Happiness, Eric Wilson discusses (among other things) melancholy’s “wonderous paradox,” which is “the ability to be serious and playful at once.”  “The mood fosters an ability to be utterly involved in the suffering world but also, at the same time, out of the game, above the fray, aloof, tranquil, as graceful as the indifferent dawn” (p. 129).  However, this real melancholy “is absolutely not the shallow, selfish irony embodied by jaded twenty- and thirty-somethings.”

“Their irony rejects sincerity and richness and tragedy and fullness of any kind.  It has seen and done everything (‘been there, done that’).  It is infected with mockery (‘yeah, right’).  Likewise, this isn’t the kind of irony you see on Saturday Night Live or South Park or Family Guy, parody merely for comedy.  Nor is this the irony of the Tarantino sort, which measures hipness by the amount of pop culture you can cite and mimic.  Finally, this is not the irony of the Seinfeld kind, a form that says you should take nothing seriously (‘no hugging, no learning’) but instead should make fun of everything.”

“Each of these kinds of irony – pervasive among Generation Xers and probably also among Generation Y types – assumes distance.  No matter how potentially moving an experience is, I can stand outside it and mock it.  I am untouched by anything approaching the real.  I stand to the side and comment, but I don’t participate.  There is an obvious perversity to this, a refusal to engage feeling.”

“This kind of postmodern irony – let’s call it instrumental irony, for it is only a tool wresting us from the present moment – borders on nihilism.  How can I value anything at all if I’m constantly extricating myself from concrete situations so that I can snidely comment on the particulars?  How can I get any adhesion to life at all if I’m chronically repelling the things that make up my environment?  To practice instrumental irony is to choose, rather mindlessly, to become a kind of ghost, a tenuous presence floating around the exquisite pressures of life, all the while whispering apathetic asides on the silliness of it all, on the allegedly empty core of existence” (p. 133).

Mea culpa!  From a Christian perspective, we have to fight this apathetic lack of commitment, since Christianity calls for serious, personal, and deliberate commitment to Christ and his church.  Read those quotes again, and ponder how the church should reach out to those drowning in the pool of indifference and nihilism.  Also ponder how we can fight the snide apathy in our own hearts!

shane lems

sunnyside wa